Every year, the Inti Raymi festival takes place on the 24th of June. It is a religious ceremony that is still celebrated by many Quechua people. The literal translation of these Quechuan words is Celebration of the Sun. According to tradition, the first Inca named Pachatutec, created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the beginning of Summer. Every year, thousands of tourists and locals make their way to Cusco, to celebrate one of the most important events of the year.
Inti Raymi at the time of the Inca Empire
At the time of the Inca Empire, around 25,000 people would unite in Cusco to celebrate this festival. Three days before the festival took place, the attendees had to follow a purification period in which they were only allowed to eat white maize and an herb called Chucam.
There was a lot of music and dancing at Inti Raymi, and men and women painted their faces yellow like the sun. They wore the heads of deer with their antlers and used them as musical instruments. Festivities lasted the entire day. Sometimes, over 200 llamas would be sacrificed during the festivities that took place, and there were parades with ancient mummies that were brought from shrines and temples.
During the first three days, the people would sweep the road and cover it with flowers as the Sapa Inca (the ruler of the Inca empire) walked to an enormous golden tower at Sacsayhuaman. He would climb this golden tower at the Inca complex made of big rocks and speak to the people. The priests would bless the people and the parade of people would return to the city of Cusco.
On the fourth day, the llamas were sacrificed. During bad years, with earthquakes, plagues or other unknown occurrences, two children from the four Inca empire regions would also be sacrificed.
The last official Inti Raymi was held in 1535, one year before the Spanish conquest. The Spanish empire banned the festival, as it was not in line with Christianity. It was then held secretly in remote areas.
Inti Raymi in the modern days
In 1944, the festival was revived by a Quechua man named Faustino Espinoza Navarro. He wanted to restore the pride, traditions and identity of the Quechua people. He was the Sapa Inca for twelve years. The Inti Raymi of today still contains most of its majestic uniqueness and attracts thousands of tourists worldwide. It is South America’s second largest festival, after Rio’s carnival.
The festivities start at 8 a.m. in front of the Coricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun. Here, the rainbow flag of the Inti Raymi is raised and many people can be found in and around the cathedral. After about 45 minutes, the people move to Plaza de Armas. Here, a sacred coca leaf will be read to foresee the future of the upcoming year. Next up, the people move to Sacsayhuaman, where thousands of people witness the ceremony. The Sapa Inca is dressed in full costume and takes a seat in the main area. Although nowadays there are no mummies anymore, and there is only one llama sacrificed at Sacsayhuaman instead of around 200, it remains a unique sight into the Inca culture and traditions.
In other countries
Inti Raymi is most popular in Cusco, as this was the city of the Inca. However, it is a well-celebrated event in many countries as well, especially in countries with a high presence of indigenous peoples. It is a celebration of reclaiming indigenous identity. In Otavalo, Ecuador for example, the people stand together and celebrate their heritage and diversity through a colorful march in the central square. Decorated with multi-colored flags, the people march to the square, and afterwards there is music and dancing.
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